These Birds Walk


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

These Birds Walk
"Some of the snatches of conversation we hear are like found art, poetic in what they capture and convey."

There are lost children in every country, no matter how advanced it thinks itself; children who are beaten, neglected or outright abandoned. Children who run away. The only thing that varies is the level of resources that strangers can gather to bring to their aid. Abdus Sattar Edhi has dedicated his life to helping children like this. He is now at the end of his life, sitting on the floor washing babies, quietly taking joy in their smiles. The children's home that he founded will go on without him. He will be remembered by thousands.

Inside the children's home, we meet some of the kids. There are a lot of them. The place is full of constant movement and noise, its few staff struggling to keep up. Many of the kids miss their homes and families, many are lonely, but it is also a place of joy, full of the energy generated by having so many people to play with. The kids squabble in the corridors, declare eternal friendship, swat each other on the head during prayers. They discuss religion, politics and their undying love for Pakistan.

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One kid stands out. This is Omar. He's a bully, but he's also plainly very fond of some of his companions. He won't back down from anything, including fights with much bigger kids over petty things like the loss of a sandal. His determination to live on his own terms is a bold act of defiance in a county battered by poverty and war. But he misses home, misses sleeping curled up with his brothers and sisters. As kids are returned to their families, he keeps getting bumped to the end of the list, because his home is in Taliban country.

Taking the kids home, where possible, is Asad. He's an ambulance driver, an orphan himself, once suicidal, now finding a reason to live through helping others. Not that it's an easy job. Petrol is scarce and he has to fit in enough paid trips - helping sick people and transporting corpses - to make ends meet. Can't he just carry a kid and a corpse at the same time? he is asked, and he has to try and explain why this would be a problem.

Sometimes when Asad takes the kids home, their families are delighted to see them. Sometimes they tell him it would be better if the kids were dead. With resources at the home stretched, he has to make difficult decisions.

Simple, observational, this documentary lets is subjects speak for themselves. Through its focus on children it presents a much wider-reaching portrait of a society trying to hold onto its values in the face of chaos and economic hardship. Amid the squalor, there are scenes of great beauty. Some of the snatches of conversation we hear are like found art, poetic in what they capture and convey. From fragments, the filmmakers have assembled something remarkable. Catch it if you can.

You can find out more about the Edhi Foundation here.

Reviewed on: 07 Dec 2013
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These Birds Walk packshot
As an old man faces death, we take a look at the children's home to which he has devoted his life.

Director: Omar Mullick, Bassam Tariq

Year: 2013

Runtime: 71 minutes

Country: Pakistan, US


Glasgow 2014

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